Outer Darkness #1
Writer: John Layman
Artist: Afu Chan
Letterer: Pat Brosseau
Publisher: Image Comics
Review by Michael Farris, Jr.
Outer Darkness #1 introduces us to Joshua Riggs, a former serviceman who will take just about any job in deep space he can get. Along with his friend/wizard-exorcist-muscle-? Agwe, Riggs often finds himself in situations that are at odds with his commanding officers. He is approached by a former admiral of his, who offers to keep him out of prison for a captain’s seat in the ship Charon. The ship’s mission is to travel into the deepest space—Outer Darkness—which carries a lot of personal meaning for Riggs. As much as he doesn’t want to, he accepts the position, but doesn’t know what horrors await him on the journey.
If that description sounds a little trope-ridden, especially considering the genre, you wouldn’t be wrong. I often found myself thinking that as I was working through the beginning of this book. Aside from the somewhat random demon possession and knockout-exorcisms that take place in the first few pages, it did feel somewhat familiar.
That was until I got halfway through the book. Once Riggs is on board and goes to inspect the engine, that’s when it really got interesting. I don’t really want to spoil it for you, but let’s just say powered by dilithium crystals, these engines are not. That’s the point where the book gets a lot weirder, darker, and touches on some weighty moral themes.
The characters are intriguing enough, especially Agwe. As stereotypical as Riggs might come off sometimes, you can’t help but wonder about his past and what made him become the man he is when we meet him, and, more importantly, where this journey is going to take him. We get a hint as to what his personal motivation is for accepting the command, and a hint is all we need to take us to pique our curiosity further.
Keep in mind that this was written by John Layman, creator of the (I’d argue) vastly underrated Chew. I’ve said in previous reviews that sci-fi horror is great when done right, which it often is not. Layman acknowledges this fact in the afterward, which is why he is writing this to do his part in redeeming the genre. He also acknowledges that he uses a lot of typical sci-fi tropes in this issue but promises to turn them upside down.
The artwork was not something you’d expect to see in a sci-fi story, but knowing how bizarre this series might get, it somehow works. Like the start of the book, I wasn’t exactly a fan, but the simple, cartoonish style grew on me as the story softened my skeptical heart as well. It will be interesting to see how strange the artwork truly gets when we get into weird planet territory. I also enjoyed the pagoda-style space station.
Verdict: Buy it.
This feels like a little leap of faith telling you to get this based on promises of stranger things to come, but there are two facts that keep me going. First, Chew was a lot of fun. Second, Layman has created a universe that already shows hints that everything we thought we knew about sci-fi was wrong and this will take us to the outer limits of what the genre can be.